“What?” Garcon said, incredulous. “Earthquakes don’t happen in Haiti.”
It must have been a hurricane. Maybe a tornado. Off went ESPN. On came CNN. And there were the images, rubble and dust, untold numbers of bodies underneath. He might have known some of them. He almost certainly knew people who knew them.
“It’s just a shock,” said Garcon, a Haitian American who was in his second year in Indianapolis at the time. “You can’t do nothing. You can’t believe what’s going on. You don’t know what to do.”
Garcon is now a wide receiver for the Washington Redskins, and results show that he has had an inordinate impact on his new team. In the nine games Garcon has played, the Redskins have eight wins. In the six games Garcon missed with a foot injury, the Redskins have one win. He changes games.
“He’s as good as any receiver in this league,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “He’s a number one receiver who can get open and wants to score — and tries to score every time he touches the ball.”
Because of those abilities, and his status three years ago as a rising star in the NFL, the moment Garcon received the news, he knew he was in a position to touch lives. He was born in upstate New York. He grew up in South Florida. He went to colleges in Vermont and Ohio. And he says, firmly, “I am Haitian.”
“I know how it is down there,” he said. “I know how much help they need. They’ve had a hard time. They only know hard times.”
An unusual path to stardom
If Garcon is one of the NFL’s best wide receivers, he is the only one who has traveled his route to that role. His parents emigrated from Haiti after Garcon’s three older sisters were born, because work as migrant farmers in the United States seemed better than any work in their impoverished home country. Pierre was born in Carmel, N.Y., but moved to Florida when he was small. By the time he was 6, his father had died.
There are, of course, scores of NFL players raised in single-parent homes, who overcame long odds to star in America’s most popular sport. But Garcon didn’t seem like he would even start on that path. Early in high school, he didn’t earn good grades, so he wasn’t eligible for school-sponsored teams. Then he figured something out: Without decent grades, there was no path to college.
“So I started working hard,” he said.
The hard work got him only so far. He was a tight end at John I. Leonard High in Greenacres, near West Palm Beach, but his team didn’t advance to the playoffs. College pursuit of him amounted to this: Coaches from Norwich University in Northfield, Vt., came to a recruiting fair in Florida. “They showed interest in me,” Garcon said. “So that meant I was interested in them.”